on dutch crunch and to go
some takes on pandemic takeout
the pandemic changed how i dine out. forgive me for such a trite opener: it’s concise and true. as my increasingly vaccinated milieu threatens to burst my (physical, social, emotional) quarantine bubble, my overstimulated mind has turned to restaurants as The Thing To Talk About with friends i haven’t seen in months and don’t quite remember how to interact with.
conversation starters include:
- what’s the first restaurant you’d like to return to for outdoor/indoor dining?
- which gustatory experiences have you missed most? (don’t worry, i’d never pull out “gustatory” on a friend.)
- are you over the weekly expenditures mandated by yuppie let’s-catch-up-over brunches or do you want to break free from your hyper-efficient eating habits and indulge a little?
all casual banter that broadcasts my anxieties/anticipations in the hopes that they’ll find family in those of my friends.
i’ve been fortunate enough (another pandemic-begotten clause, perhaps one that deserves a permanent home in my idiolect) to have the time and means to enjoy the shelter-in-place takeout scene. while some of my peers were hoarding new hobbies to claw back normalcy from a world in coronachaos, i found solace in compiling and completing checklists. why not whittle down the want-to-go restaurants that pockmarked my google maps view? what better time than now to try the best sandwiches in san francisco? even my non-food-oriented completionism had an alimentary angle: biking across the city to stroll up a bunch of public stairways works up the appetite.
though there have been glimmers of my pre- and post-pandemic restaurant experiences in these paragraphs, i’ll express them more plainly. in the beforetimes, i’d dine out to socialize (or socialize as an excuse to dine out?), usually opting to meet people over brunch or dinner in one of our neighborhoods. i got weekly boba or chai with my manager. i’d cajole closer friends to follow me on adventures to faraway cafés i’d found filtering yelp for the “highest rated” citywide establishments. only that last bit remains the same: i still over-optimize meals eaten out at the cost of serendipity.
pandemic me is a sandwich stan.
sandwiches epitomize my 2020 takeout desires. i strive to maximize efficiency, volume, and ease of outdoor consumption while minimizing cost and wait time. i eat hungrily and immediately, seldom pausing to speak to my companion (if any) as i scarf down my Monomeal, a caloric anvil that could easily knock out my hunger for the rest of the day.
takeout hours are currently tied to sunshine, one of many ways in which i’ve grown more dependent on seasonal change during the pandemic. i tend to be home at night and, when home, i cook. i treat going out to eat as an adventure (which i embark on during the day) rather than a comfort (which i find burrowed in my apartment afterwards). i’ve tried to push off my roaming sessions til the afternoon so that i might conclude them with dinner, but the ocean wind always whips me shivering and defeated.
parks serve as the backdrop for these daytime carryout runs. i haven’t dined at a restaurant in over a year, so, after picking up my meal, i seek out grassy parks with clean-enough public restrooms and no crowds. my urban surroundings have taken on new meaning when scanned for and evaluated against these criteria. i’ve revisited familiar neighborhoods and discovered tiny green spaces — often marked as “mini-parks” — that i’d never noticed before. i could write another blog post about how the pandemic has shaped how i see san francisco, but suffice to say that food has played no small role.
of course, not every pandemic takeout experience fits into the sandwich-in-the-sunshine mold. a few other food memories stand out. swallowing down still-too-hot chana dal in a suburban strip mall parking lot to seize its full potency. swelling with tenderness for the kind mother-and-daughter duo who salted and peppered the tomato slices on my bagel before tucking them under lettuce. i’ve tried many new-to-me foods — katogo, sabich, jollof, zhajiangmian — and even stumbled upon my first allergy. these too paint a picture of my pandemic-wrought relationship with restaurants, one that i’m desperately trying to frame because i’m not ready for a collective Return To Normalcy.
so, yes, i have dragged your eyes down the screen without any real purpose other than to record my own experiences. at best, you’ll find some of these words resonant, perhaps prompting you to think about your pandemic takeout takes. i encourage you to share them, be it in the comments (selfish writer that i am) or other fora, because only in remembering the particulars of the pandemic can we hope to process our new selves and push for societal change, like, say actually treating frontline food industry workers well.